Nils Liedholm

Elegant, imaginative footballer

Nils Liedholm, footballer and coach: born Valdemarsvik, Sweden 8 October 1922; played for IK Sleipner 1942-46, IFK Norrkoping 1946-49, AC Milan 1949-61; capped 23 times by Sweden 1946-58; coached AC Milan 1963-66, Verona 1966-68, Monza 1968-69, Varese 1969-71, Fiorentina 1971-73, Roma 1973-77, AC Milan 1977-79, Roma 1979-84, AC Milan 1984-87, Roma 1987-89, Verona 1992, Roma 1997; married (one son); died Cuccaro Monferrato, Italy 5 November 2007.

Nils Liedholm gave rare meaning to the over-used description of football as "the beautiful game". A deeply thoughtful Swede who passed his playing pomp in Italy with AC Milan, he was one of the most elegant, imaginative and productive midfield generals of his generation, and it was no surprise that he matured into a perceptive, immensely successful coach in the adopted land he had come to embrace.

Liedholm scaled a whole range of footballing mountains. On the field, he was a key contributor as Sweden won Olympic gold in London in 1948, he captained his country to the final of the World Cup a decade later and he glittered as Milan lifted four Italian League titles during the 1950s. From the dugout he guided AC to the same Serie A crown in 1979 and he repeated the feat with Roma in 1983, only to taste penalty shoot-out despair at the hands of Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final.

His speciality was passing the ball, intelligently and with remarkable accuracy, over long distances and short, and there is a story that it was two years before he first misplaced a dispatch in front of his home supporters. Their reaction to this stunning occurrence, the tale goes on, was a five-minute standing ovation to indicate their recognition that they had witnessed a mere blip in the maestro's customary excellence.

Tall, lithe and smoothly skilful, the 20-year-old Liedholm began to emerge as an exceptional talent with one of his local clubs, IK Sleipner, during the Second World War, and in 1946 he was transferred to the far more eminent IFK Norrkoping, whom he helped to lift two Swedish League championships.

By 1948 he had risen to international status and although he was unable to command a berth in his specialist position of inside-forward in the Olympic side, he excelled as a wandering left winger and added considerable lustre to the Swedes' gold-winning combination which overcame Yugoslavia 3-1 in the Wembley final.

A year later his club manager, Lajos Czeizler, moved to AC Milan and made the signing of Liedholm and his prodigiously prolific goal-scoring team-mate, Gunnar Nordahl, an early priority. At the San Siro, the pair teamed up with their countryman and fellow Olympic medallist Gunnar Gren, and the illustrious trio, affectionately dubbed "Gre-No-Li" by their Italian admirers, proved central to the renaissance of a club which had spent decades in the doldrums.

Now AC Milan entered a golden age, winning the Scudetto (the League title) in 1951, 1955, 1957 and 1959. They became a major force in the newly launched European Cup, too, and Liedholm performed majestically in the second leg of the 1958 semi-final against Manchester United.

Admittedly, Matt Busby's side had been devastated by the recent Munich air disaster, but somehow they had managed to prevail 2-1 in the first leg on their home turf. In Italy, though, a patchwork United were swept aside by a team inspired by the majestic Swedish play-maker, who netted once himself and set up two goals for the Uruguayan sharpshooter Juan Schiaffino in a 4-0 victory.

Liedholm was equally potent in the Brussels final against the holders, the incomparable Real Madrid, orchestrating play and inspiring Milan to look the stronger unit as 90 minutes were completed with the score at 2-2. When Francisco Gento poached the winner for the Spaniards in added time, the Swedish schemer and his comrades could claim to be grievously unlucky. A further demonstration of Liedholm's consummate class followed later that year when he led his country to the World Cup final in his homeland.

Faced in the Rasunda Stadium, Solna, by a Brazil side containing the sensationally gifted 17-year-old Pelé, he laid down a marker of his own only four minutes into the action when he climaxed an enchanting dribble past two defenders with an emphatic finish to give Sweden a shock lead. The South Americans recovered to win 5-2, but the Scandinavians' 35-year-old skipper emerged with vast credit.

Liedholm was an astute strategist, too, and there was little doubt that after his retirement as a player in 1961, having scored 81 times in 359 appearances for Milan, he would take up coaching. He started by working with the club's youngsters, moving up to first-team duties in 1963. There followed an extensive, varied and accomplished coaching career, the highlights of which included helping Verona and Varese to earn promotion.

The peaks, however, were taking his beloved Milan to the 1979 Scudetto, then doing the same for Roma four years later. When in Rome there were also Italian Cup victories in 1980, 1981 and 1984, and that agonising European Cup final defeat by Liverpool at Roma's own headquarters, the Olympic Stadium.

In all there were three stints with Milan and four with Roma before "The Baron", so tagged by his footballing peers after he married a member of the Italian nobility, retired in 1997.

Ivan Ponting


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

£26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Senior Data Analyst - London - £38,000

£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London